‘Natural’ screenwriter Dusenberry dies

Industry vet was also an ace ad man

Screenwriter and ad man Philip B. “Phil” Dusenberry, who co-wrote 1984’s WGA-nommed Robert Redford baseball starrer “The Natural” and created such campaigns as GE’s “We Bring Good Things to Life” and Pepsi’s “The Choice of a New Generation,” died Saturday at his Manhattan home, having suffered from lung cancer. He was 71.

In addition to adapting “The Natural” with Roger Towne from Bernard Malamud’s novel, Dusenberry penned, with Larry Spiegel, 1973’s “Hail,” about a president who sets up a secret army and concentration camps for dissidents.

But he was most acclaimed as an advertising creative. Legendary in that field– he was named one of the last century’s top 100 ad people by Advertising Age — the former chairman of BBDO North America wrote acclaimed books on advertising, including “Then We Set His Hair on Fire: Insights and Accidents From a Hall-of-Fame Career in Advertising” — a memoir recounting, among other things, when Michael Jackson’s hair was ignited during the filming of a Pepsi ad — and “One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas: An Advertising Hall-of-Famer Reveals the Most Powerful Secret in Business” — in which he advanced the notion that a unifying theme can spawn thousands of ads.

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After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Dusenberry worked with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to create a public service campaign to raise city residents’ spirits. The “New York Miracle” campaign featured Woody Allen and Barbara Walters, among others.

Dusenberry was raised in Brooklyn and attended Emory & Henry College on an athletic scholarship. When the college’s athletic program was canceled, he moved into radio and then started his career at ad powerhouse BBDO in 1962. After seven years as a copywriter, he started Dusenberry Ruriani & Kornhauser but then rejoined BBDO in 1977 and was promoted to chairman-chief creative officer of the New York office. He was eventually named vice chairman of BBDO Worldwide and then chairman of BBDO North America. He retired in 2002.

During his tenure, BBDO was named agency of the year four times by trade publications, and he lured Dusenberry lured top celebs such as Michael J. Fox, Madonna and Lionel Richie to pitch for his clients. Besides the celebrated Pepsi and GE campaigns, he helped President Ronald Reagan get re-elected with the famed “Morning in America” ads in 1984 (a short documentary he made, “Final Journey,” is part of the Reagan Presidential Library); other ads boosted FedEx, HBO, Pizza Hut and Cingular.

He was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame in 2003 and the One Club’s Hall of Fame in 2007.

His long list of awards include ADDYs, Clios, One Show Pencils and Gold Lions at Cannes.

“Our industry has lost a legend. BBDO has lost an inspiration. And many of us have lost a friend,” said Andrew Robertson, president-CEO, BBDO Worldwide, in a statement.

Dusenberry is survived by wife Susan, a stepson, two brothers and a sister. A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. Ignatius Loyola, 980 Park Ave., Manhattan.

Donations can be made to the Coalition for the Homeless, 129 Fulton St., New York, NY 10038, or the St. Jude Children’s Cancer Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.